Tenderly into the New Year

A happy February to you, friends!

I haven’t taken a vow of silence, though I can’t remember the last time I went for a month without letting a thought or two rise here.

The hearty feast of others’ words that lies on my reading table might have something to do with the change of pace; I’ve finally tracked down longstanding recommendations, and books are currently trailing me through the house like itinerant bards.

All the Light We Cannot See accompanied me on errands for weeks; it saw the inside of my laundry room and sang to me in the kitchen before I turned its last leaf quietly four days ago, letting the heavy veil of years fall again between my mind and the sharply illuminated sorrows of 1940s Europe.

Of all the new rhythms established this winter, setting aside more time to read regularly might be my favorite — and the most beneficial.

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Away from the printed page, the sunlit hours in our house are full of life, as variegated as the many fancies and explorations of a child’s single day. Little Jo bustled about in her play kitchen this afternoon, and offered to show me her groceries as she returned from the living-room market.

“I have corn! Want to see?” she asked, joyfully unzipping the edges of her sister’s lunchbox.

In it were six jumbo-size yellow building blocks, looking for all the world like neat bundles of hundred-dollar bills packed meticulously in a shady suitcase. I had a good laugh as I sautéed vegetables for clam chowder at the stove. A few feet away, Lucy snapped together the pieces of a toy sunken ship and lowered a tiny plastic diver onto the wreckage. Adventures of all kinds abound here.

The calendar promises more: a wedding in the summer, a possible holiday to the East Coast in the fall. I make lists and dream of what to grow in the garden come spring, and pour generous cupfuls of English black tea in the afternoons. After years in post-college recovery from caffeine, apparently I’m ready again for something stronger. Or perhaps I’m bracing myself, one small filter bag at a time, for change.

But there’s time for stillness yet, I find; time for enough silence to hear the ticking of the clock in the next room. Last week’s fog feathered the tree branches in the backyard until they became thick fingers of hoarfrost, holding up a restraining hand against all the cares of tomorrow that pressed in at our panes. We made soup, watched Anne of Green Gables, found overstuffed nooks in the couch in which to hide our socked feet.

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On other quiet days, I feel the press of time, the way a kind hand lands on the shoulder.

The girls are growing — yesterday I removed the last dresses, shirts, pants of tiny girlhood from Little Jo’s closet — and yet I find myself pausing to crouch to their level these days, a little amazed that their voices are still so babyish, their eyes still so trusting and full of hopeful mirth as they ask us to chase them around the staircase after dinner.

My mother has returned home after her winter visit here, back to my father and a new teaching semester, and something subtle shifted into place for me as she left: a thankfulness and admiration deeper than any I’ve known in my daughter-life.

We are living through bittersweet and honeyed moments, as is the regular rhythm of life. I’m learning to allow myself moments of grief upon closing my computer and its window to a frenetic world. Y paces hallways, stair steps, basement carpet as he considers how best to care for a loved one — how to plan wisely without sacrificing compassion on the altar of convenience. These keep us anchored to earth, and make us aware of the hours that are falling through our fingers even now.

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It’s a new year, I thought on the first Sunday of this month, perched on a folding chair at church: but it’s a new year Homeward. I was thinking in particular of a certain beautiful little girl’s homecoming, and how victoriously it followed her clear-eyed walk with her Father.

Whatever we do within its twelve months, our work and our rest and the attendant joys and sorrows fall along one path: a road which runs in one direction, and down which we will look with unmistakable clarity soon, beside the Ancient of Days.

At the outset of what will surely be a year of grace, I feel grounded by tenderness: rawness and softheartedness — both sides of the word. The work and play of each day seem to be shot through with little reminders that I am still hungry for something I can’t describe (though I often try). For trees laden with autumn leaves in burnished colors, for the sight of the sea breaking and rolling and foaming on a rocky shore — for all of the beloved “stings” that jolt me from my concerns and herald the glory that is to be, beyond this world. One of these struck on Saturday evening, well after the sun went down, when I went out to the porch to shake the crumbs off our movie night picnic blanket and heard the loud honk of Canada geese flying overhead and calling to each other in the dark. Sharp glimpses of eternal things are embedded in beauty and suffering alike, and I’m grateful for the wide, wild grace that weaves them into our days.

Finally — partly because I’ve already said quite enough for one post, and partly because I’ve always wanted to say it: Once more unto the breach, friends! I’ll be back soon with more stories, and thoughts on that singular longing.

May your week be filled with real, undiluted joy.

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